Oaths of allegiance: Church of England

Concerns have been expressed on whether clergy in the Church of England would be required to retake their Oath of Allegiance, following the practice in the UK Parliament outlined in Oath of allegiance on demise of the Crown; under these circumstances it has become the custom of the two Houses to swear or affirm allegiance to the Crown afresh. However, clergy and others may be reassured that whilst it will be necessary to update Canon C 13 Of the Oath of Allegiance (and other Church of England Canons), it will not be necessary for them to remake their Oath of Allegiance.

Background

Canons of the Church of Church of England

The oath of allegiance in the Church of England is stated Canon C 13 Of the Oath of Allegiance, to which other Canons make cross-reference, infra. Those subject to these requirements may either swear the oath in paragraph (1), or under the provisions of s5 Oaths Act 1978, make the affirmation in paragraph (3):

“I, A B, do swear that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, her heirs and successors, according to law: So help me God”,

or

“I, A B, do solemnly, sincerely and truly declare and affirm that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, her heirs and successors, according to law”.

Both forms are independent of changes in the monarchy, and the wording “heirs and successors” has long been used in oaths of allegiance*. Canon C 13 is primarily addressed to:

“(1) Every person whose election to any archbishopric or bishopric is to be confirmed, or who is to be consecrated or translated to any suffragan bishopric, or to be ordained priest or deacon, or to be instituted, installed, licensed or admitted to any office in the Church of England or otherwise serve in any place, shall first, in the presence of the archbishop or bishop by whom his election to such archbishopric or bishopric is to be confirmed, or in whose province such suffragan bishopric is situate, or by whom he is to be ordained, instituted, installed, licensed or admitted, or of the commissary of such archbishop or bishop…”.

In addition, it is also required of:

  • the chancellor of a diocese, (or in the case of the diocese of Canterbury, the commissary general), and a person appointed to act as deputy chancellor of a diocese, either before the bishop of the diocese in the presence of the diocesan registrar, or in open court in the presence of the registrar, Canon G 2;
  • the Dean of the Arches (Province of Canterbury) and Auditor (Province of York) (i) before the Archbishop of Canterbury in the presence of the registrar of the province of Canterbury and before the Archbishop of York in the presence of the registrar of the province of York; or (ii)  in open court in both of these provinces in the presence of the registrar of the province the oaths specified in paragraph 3 of Canon G 2, and, if the person is lay, to make and subscribe, in like circumstances, the declaration therein specified.

A person (other than the Dean of the Arches and Auditor) appointed to hold the office of a judge of either of the said courts is required, before entering on the execution of the office, to take the said oaths either before the archbishop of the relevant province and in the presence of the registrar of that province, or in open court in the presence of that registrar, and, if the person is lay, to make and subscribe, in the like circumstances, the said declaration. Canon G 3.

  • The registrar of a province and of the provincial court, appointed by the archbishop of that province, and the registrar of a diocese and its consistory court, appointed by the bishop of the diocese.

 A registrar, before entering on the execution of the office, is required to take, in the presence of the archbishop or bishop, as the case may be, the oaths specified in paragraph 3 of Canon G 2, and to make and subscribe, in the like presence, the declaration therein specified. Canon G 4.

Statutory legislation

Statutory provisions relating to the oath of allegiance are to be found in two instruments of primary legislation; the Clerical Subscription Act 1865, includes the following provisions:

4 Subscription and oaths on ordination.

Every person about to be ordained priest or deacon shall, before ordination, in the presence of the archbishop or bishop by whom he is about to be ordained, at such time as he may appoint, take and subscribe the oath of allegiance and supremacy

5 Subscription and oath on institution to benefice, or licence to perpetual curacy, &c.

Every person about to be instituted or collated to any benefice, or to be licensed to any perpetual curacy, lectureship, or preachership, shall, before institution or collation is made or licence granted, take the said oath of allegiance and supremacy, in the presence of the archbishop or bishop by whom he is to be instituted, collated, or licensed, or the commissary of such archbishop or bishop.”

The Promissory Oaths Act 1868 provides inter alia that:

“8 Form of oath of allegiance in this Act substituted for form in certain other Acts.

The form of the oath of allegiance provided by this Act shall be deemed to be substituted in the case of the Clerical Subscription Act 1865, for the form of the oath of allegiance and supremacy therein referred to; in the case of the Parliamentary Oaths Act 1866, for the form of the oath thereby prescribed to be taken and subscribed by members of Parliament on taking their seats; and all the provisions of the said Acts shall apply to the oath substituted by this section, in the same manner as if that form of oath were actually inserted in each of the said Acts in the place of the oath for which it is substituted.

[…]

10 The name of the Sovereign for time being to be used in the oath.

Where in any oath under this Act the name of Her present Majesty is expressed, the name of the Sovereign of this Kingdom for the time being shall be substituted from time to time.”

The above considerations will not be an issue for the fifteen deacons in the Exeter diocese who were the first Church of England ordinands to swear a vow of allegiance to King Charles III.

Comment

In 2015, the Ecclesiastical Law Journal included an article* by Rupert Bursell KC on the clerical oath of allegiance. Whilst this does not address the implication of the demise of the Crown, it provides a comprehensive review of the history of the oath, those required to take it, how it is administered, and the effect of a breach by a cleric.

David Pocklington


Bursell R, “The Clerical Oath of Allegiance”, (2015) 17 Ecc LJ (3) 295. 

Cite this article as: David Pocklington, "Oaths of allegiance: Church of England" in Law & Religion UK, 14 September 2022, https://lawandreligionuk.com/2022/09/14/oaths-of-allegiance-church-of-england/

 

3 thoughts on “Oaths of allegiance: Church of England

  1. Is the option of a solemn affirmation there because some might have a theological objection to taking an oath? Also interesting that simony doesn’t seem to be a problem any more!

    • I’ve always assumed so: Matthew 5:37. On the other hand, there’s Article XXXIX (Of a Christian Man’s Oath):

      “As we confess that vain and rash Swearing is forbidden Christian men by our Lord Jesus Christ, and James his Apostle, so we judge, that Christian Religion doth not prohibit, but that a man may swear when the Magistrate requireth, in a cause of faith and charity, so it be done according to the Prophet’s teaching in justice, judgment, and truth.”

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